Rick was a Service Delivery Manager who was looking to take his career to the next level.
After researching what careers were driving demand in his area, he set his sights on Front End Web Development. But Rick didn’t major in Computer Science and he didn’t have any professional experience in tech. He was starting from scratch.
Today we’re going behind the scenes of Rick’s journey where he shares:
+ How he taught himself to code while working full time (and learning most of it for free)
+ How he built relationships with front end developers at his dream company and leveraged them to accelerate his learning and land referrals
+ How he dealt with the extreme highs and lows of job search and breaking into a new industry
+ How he eventually landed an offer as a Front End Web Developer at his dream company despite not having any prior experience or education in the field
Full Interview Transcript
Austin Belcak: Hey everyone. Welcome to another Cultivated Culture career success story. I’m here with Rick McGavin. Rick, thanks so much for joining me, man.
Rick McGavin: Well, no problem, man. I’m happy to be here.
Austin: Awesome. You are a front-end developer at Red Ventures, is that right?
Rick: Yes, that’s correct.
Austin: Awesome. Tell us a little bit more about what you do and how you’re liking it.
Rick: I love it. Best job I’ve had, honestly. At any point in time, I can go play a bowling game. I need to take a break or– I don’t play basketball, but I could go play basketball. They take care of us really well there. I love working there, definitely for sure.
Austin: Awesome. Basketball, bowling, that’s the definition of dream job, right? I love it.
Rick: [laughs] It is. I watch other people play basketball.
Austin: [laughs] Awesome. But it wasn’t always this way, right? That’s kind of how you and I got introduced. I’d love to rewind things fully, all the way back to the customer service, delivery manager days. Tell us a little bit first about what that was like, what you were doing. Then, if you wouldn’t mind leading into what spurred the career changed. What led you to say, “You know what? It’s time for something else.”?
Rick: Sure. I actually, I started in 2012 in the customer service space. I was just an agent. I was able to really rapidly work my way up to service delivery manager, which meant I had about 300 indirect, direct reports that I was managing there. Over time, I just didn’t– I didn’t care for the way the industry runs in general. My role in it specifically, I just didn’t enjoy being a leader for the way we had to manage the company. I knew it was likely our client wouldn’t renew us, so I just started thinking about what I really want to do. Because I probably have some time here. I can figure out what I want to do. It wasn’t even so much what I wanted to do.
I actually started looking for what’s in demand where I live. That’s when I really ran into like, “Okay, everybody’s hiring front-end engineers, front-end developers,” things like that. Then I started to dig into that. For about a year actually, I just hardcore every day studied. Fairly minimal expenses. You can really learn a lot online for– You could do it for free. I don’t mind paying a few bucks to just make my life a little easier though.
Austin: If you don’t mind me asking, what are some of the free resources that you did use though that you found to be most helpful. I know there’s a couple out there, but would love to hear what you personally thought was great.
Rick: I used freeCodeCamp a lot which actually that’s how I stumbled across your article was there. I think they put one of your big ones out there.
Rick: [laughs] Lynda.com, while it’s not free, a lot of people don’t realize you have a lot of libraries with a free library card, you can get a free Lynda.com account. That’s a really good resource for just free stuff. Udemy has free things, Udemy.com. The stuff that’s not free, you can get on sale usually for 10 or 11 bucks. They seem just have sales all the time. Those were the main ones that I really just picked up courses from there and ran with it. The main thing was really building a portfolio at work that pretty much said, “I have a degree in this or whatever, but here’s the work. I can do the work.”
Austin: Awesome. Yes, I like the Lynda library card mentioned. I think that’s overlooked a lot. I actually–, I stumbled across that. I went out and got a New York public library card for that and for just to start taking out audiobooks because you can do that now too for free.
Austin: Audiobooks really crazy expensive these days, so double life hack there. I love it. I also love that you said that you studied every single day. I think it’s so important to be super consistent when you’re learning something new. I think, I don’t know if you found this personally, but for me, it’s way better to do a couple hours or even one or two hours every day versus a nine-hour binge on Saturday. It just helps retain, it helps you make those connections when you’re working in, thinking about every day. That’s awesome, man. About how long did it take you to get to a point where you felt comfortable to apply for jobs or were you out there applying for jobs while you were learning and took the mentality of, “If I do get something I’ll make it up on the back end,” pun intended.
Rick: I started reaching out early. But not even as early as some people say they do. You want to probably start making connections right away. First day you even know how to code, it’s not going to hurt. It can only help. I actually waited and I had a weird thing where I knew where I wanted to work, which was Red Ventures. I just didn’t necessarily know exactly how to get there. I think after about six months of just studying, I got comfortable reaching out to someone there but I also really started to realize then I need to find out what they’re working with. If I know what they work with, because even in just front-end development alone, there’s so much to know, so much to learn.
I figured I could make myself most appealing by learning what they use. That’s what prompted me actually to spontaneously and randomly reached out to a developer there. I literally just Facebook searched front-end developers at Red Ventures. He was one of the first few people. I just clicked on him, turned out he grew up like a couple-hour from where I grew up. I just sent him a message. I just plainly explained to him who I was, what I was trying to do, what I’m trying to learn, and he was very helpful. He gave me a lot of feedback.
I was telling someone about that and that’s when they told me about your article, the one that freeCodeCamp did. They were like, “Check this out.” They were like, “He’s kind of talking about what you’re talking about.” I read that. I was like, “Wow, you took this to whole another level.” Ultimately, it was my kind of idea of, “I should really just talk to people who work there.” That’s sort of what I was thinking. It’s like, how would I find out what they used if I worked there? Well, I would just ask people.
We often think people are farther away than they really are. Almost the whole world is a message away. It’s a tweet away. You never know somebody might reply.
Austin: Totally. It’s surprising, actually. I felt the same way when I started reaching out. Now I joke. I just got coffee with somebody a couple of minutes before this and we were talking about we met online. He and I were both saying how most of our friends recently that we made are all online. But like 10 years ago, my mom would have gotten really mad if I went out to meet somebody that I found on Instagram, right? It’s crazy how things are changing. But that’s becoming the norm and you totally took advantage.
That wasn’t a super straightforward process, right? There were definitely some challenges in there. Talk us through some of those. What did you run into that held you back and even made you doubt yourself at some points?
Rick: A lot of it had to do with not necessarily knowing what I didn’t know, which is where I took that step to find out. Get feedback. I think that’s key, is finding out what you don’t know. The easiest way to do that is to try and get that information from somebody else, actually. Somebody who’s already been there. I would say, there’s a lot of internal struggle, as well, no matter how it’s going.
There’s a lot of moments where you’re like– You may or may not have an established career, I did. I was like, “I have this going. I don’t necessarily have to do this.” But I knew I wasn’t happy doing what I was doing. If I was coming home working every day, two, three, four, five hours, it’s something I like. You don’t work that hard for something you don’t enjoy. I would say, the hardest and biggest battle for me was really just keeping the faith that one day this was going to turn for me.
Really, with a lot of these, you don’t really fail till you give up. If you hang in there and you just keep plugging away, you keep trying, you don’t give up, it’s going to work out. But that’s where most people tend to go wrong. They lose faith in themselves or they just don’t think it’s worth it anymore.
Austin: Definitely. I think that’s a fantastic point. I love the line, “You’re never really out until you say you’re out.” Like until you call it yourself. I think that’s fantastic. Also, as somebody who’s coming from a non-traditional background, how was that received when you first started reaching out and you first started applying?
Rick: It was tough at first. I talked to a ton of recruiters, various people. I didn’t get a lot of response at all. I kept a spreadsheet. I think I had at least a hundred applications out there.
Austin: The century mark.
Rick: Yes, right. Ultimately, by the end of the whole search, I really only ever even heard back from somewhere between 5 to 10. That’s where that whole like this is dispiriting thing comes in from. We only need one yes to make 99 no’s worth it. [laughs] And then I think the key thing there [inaudible 00:10:13] getting in front of somebody essentially I could really talk to. So I was able to get that, the interview, and I think that’s where I was able to really shift at least for getting the position at Red Ventures.
The main thing there was I was able to– I read a lot about their website. I understood their culture by the time I went in there. I was super prepared giving– Basically, getting an advocate internally to refer me really helped me close the gap, probably more than anything. After I was able to talk to him, he saw how passionate I was. So he went and he told the other people there, that landed me the interview.
Once I had the interview and I was able to get in front of them, it was really just a matter of selling– It’s just being honest a lot. I don’t want to say it’s selling, it’s like, “Here’s what I did”. You tell someone you spend hours every day on your own and you have the work to show for it, it just really goes a long way. I did have some issues where, early on, I wouldn’t even necessarily get looked at because of all the experience that I had as a manager and so on. And some recruiters even said, “You might be getting passed over because they are afraid you’ll come in and try to take over,” or various other things.
So I actually downplayed it in my resume eventually, some of it. I had a professional resume writer work on it actually. Because I got let go of my last job, there was like a little transitional period, and they hired [inaudible 00:11:57] resume writer for us, and she fixed it up. And we actually downplayed all of the stuff that didn’t necessarily apply like it stayed on the resume but it didn’t take up quite as much space. And then really up-played all the learning, the project decks that I did and so on.
Austin: And I think that takes a lot. It’s not easy to downplay all this experience that you spend a lot of time building, but it’s so important. I was actually talking to another career coach recently who had an MBA grad who was looking for a job and she couldn’t find anything, and they did a similar thing. They actually took her MBA experience and took it off the resume and immediately that that turned things around, and it just happened that the job she was applying for, they knew that MBA candidates would come in and expect 10%, 20% more than what the average or kind of just above the average was, and they weren’t willing to pay.
So she started getting offers. She was too happy with the salary, it was still great without that 10, 20 extra. But just something to think about for people who are listening because I think a lot of us we spend four years in college getting a degree and then we go out and get a job, and especially if it sucks, you’re like, “Well, I put in all that time at this job I hate, I just can’t downplay it.” But sometimes you got to let go and move forward.
Austin: So one other question I have for you, you mentioned the advocate internally, and I love that strategy. You know I’m a big fan. Was that the original guy that you reached out to on Facebook or was it somebody else?
Rick: Yes. Yes it ended up being him in the end. I had reached out to other people too. Kind of maybe some more director level there and so on. I didn’t get all of them to respond. Now that I work there, I think it was because they have great email filtering, honestly. I don’t think it ever got to them. But Facebook, you can find him on there anyway, I should have just stuck with Facebook [laughs] or Linkedin, any of them works. I’ve had a lot of success with pretty much a lot of them, but I can definitely say that’s interesting I felt about development in a lot of places at least with my interactions is with senior developers, even mid-level developers are often really good advocates.
Because a lot of times, they may or may not report to somebody who does or does not know how to do what you do. So like another senior developer or someone’s usually really good to have in your corner or even just another developer to say like, “Hey, he’s good, I know what he’s doing.” If you go above them, then somebody might just ignore it.
Austin: Right. Totally.
Rick: [unintelligible 00:14:42]
Austin: Sorry. I just like this train and I wanted to ask, what was the discrepancy in time between when you initially reached out to this guy on Facebook and when he referred you into the company?
Rick: So initially, I talked to him in September 2016. Then he gave me an official referral March 2017. Some of that is because he literally– I don’t want to say he tore it down, he gave me a very polite feedback. He just gave me the feedback that I needed to make my portfolio acceptable. It wasn’t too good, I can’t lie about that now. It’s better now, he gave me a lot of feedback, so I spent a lot of time focusing on the feedback that he gave me actually.
When I went back to him, I was like, “Hey, I’ve worked on everything you told me to. Do you mind looking at my stuff again?” He felt pretty obligated I think by then.
Rick: I don’t know if he expected me to be like, “I took everything you said to heart and ran with it for the past three months.”
Austin: Yes, you hooked him. I love it.
Rick: Once he saw I had been doing all that he referred me right away. I would say if you ever wanted a case where the referral very clearly changed everything, this was one of them. I had applied, I want to say very first week of March, and I actually didn’t even get a referral. I was just like straight panic mode one night. I’m like, “I’ve got to get applications out,” and I did it. I didn’t get it. And then like two weeks later, I had finally synced up with him again because we hadn’t been able to really connect. We got to talking and he was like, “Wait they told you no?” I’m like, “Yes.” He’s like, “Apply again, put me on the referral, I’ll talk to someone. You’ll hear from someone.” That was it. I applied with the same resume, the same exact everything except I put the referrals name in this time.
Austin: I love it. I love it, dude. That is it right there. It’s fantastic, especially the piece where you talk to him. You got the feedback but then you followed up so many times. You have the best analogy that I always like to use is when somebody really wants to get in shape, they’re like, “It’s my new year’s resolution.” They go talk to all their fit friends like, “What do you do?” Their friends are like, “Well I eat this way, and I go to the gym six times a week, and I lift these weights and I do this.” Then the person who asked for the advice is like, “Great thanks,” and then doesn’t take any of it. And you’re like, “Why did I even give you the advice?”
That’s the rule. And usually, the exception is the guy like yourself who actually goes out does the work, comes back and says, “I listened to you. I took what you said to heart and I went and took action, and here’s what I’ve got to show.” That is so powerful as you just said, and that’s fantastic. Would you mind sharing a couple of the suggestions or recommendations that he gave you?
Austin: What kind of projects did you use to build that out? Did you create some of your own or was this more like you went out and found some courses that taught how to build stuff without frameworks etc, focus more on HTML CSS? Or did you do a little bit of both?
Rick: Both, a little bit of both. That was the very first thing that I did was a Udemy course that was going to teach me HTML, CSS, responsive design without frameworks. I went through, built that project– didn’t use that project in my portfolio. Most of my portfolio projects were actually the projects that were part of the freeCodeCamp curriculum. I tried to just make them as nicely designed, more so than the examples, or just tried to give it additional functionality that maybe wasn’t there, tried to take it to that next level than the example that they gave you.
Then over time, as I was applying, you’ll get people that give you take home projects. Whenever I built one of those, if it was worth putting in my portfolio– Some of them are so small, it’s not worth it. If it was, I put it in there. Even if I didn’t get the job, it went on my portfolio.
Rick: Because some of them I spent a lot of time on and actually they turned out really cool in my opinion, even if I got passed up and I’m like, “This is going up, I don’t care.”
Austin: That’s awesome. That’s a great segue into the actual interview process. Was there a significant technical piece to that for you or did they run you through– did they give you a take-home project, did they run you through some stuff on the spot? What did that look like?
Rick: They have a really good process. First up, they give you a recruiter recall and talk to you, just get the basics. Make sure that you can communicate and so on. Mostly just get a feel for you, to see if you have a pleasant vibe, and administer like the next part. And they give you a– For front-end developers, they gave me like a take-home test. I don’t know if it’s changed now, but at the time, they weren’t too hard on the time frame. Basically, as long as I told them when I can get it back and as long as I could meet that, they were comfortable. As long as I didn’t tell them it would take a month because it was a pretty small project [laughs].
I just got that taken care of and then. If they like your work there, they’ll bring you in and have a half-day on-site interview. That is where they really dig in. First, I had to meet with a couple of front-end directors, then I met with a couple senior front-end developers. And then you meet with someone, business-side, like an associate or an account manager. They do more of the culture fit type of interview, and whatnot.
Technical-wise, they didn’t make me do a whiteboard or really grill me too hard. They’re really progressive in that sense, especially in that they will try asking you questions to the point where you’re going to have to say you don’t know at a certain point. That I think they were looking for. Because it’s important to know your limitations. You don’t really want to work with somebody who thinks they know it all or isn’t really good at taking feedback things like that or can’t admit that, “Hey, this is something I’m not good at and I need to work on because they’re usually really, really hard to work with.” I was very cognizant of that as I was doing my interview actually.
Austin: Awesome. Awesome. Obviously, incredible journey, a total career pivot because, obviously, customer delivery is not in tech or in the programming space at all. So totally self-taught–.
Austin: –which is fantastic. There’s a lot of people out there that are looking to make a similar move, especially into development because that’s definitely one of the hot careers today. I think a lot of people saw what you saw when they get out there and they look at what’s in demand and where’s the money at these days.
What’s your number one piece of advice and also what’s one mistake that everybody out there should– what advice should they take and what’s one mistake that they should avoid if they’re trying to replicate your results here?
Rick: Definitely back to keep the faith in yourself if you want to hang in there. I definitely believe you cannot fail if you don’t give up and be disciplined, for sure, every day. That’s what it takes. Every single day, it doesn’t matter how you feel. If you feel like it or not, you’ve got to do it. I would say discipline is probably the biggest thing. The biggest thing that that’s going to take you to be successful is putting it in on the days you don’t feel like it [laughs].
Austin: I love it, man. That’s awesome. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I really appreciate it and I think a lot of people are going to benefit from hearing it. Yes, thanks for hanging out with me.
Rick: No problem, man. Thanks for having me.
Austin: You got it. We’ll talk to you soon, Rick. Take care.
Rick: You too!